Cedar Key residents say police are out of control. Police say the most recent polarizing incident started over a misunderstanding. But the outcome leaves police and citizens on either side of a widening divide.
On April 28, Cedar Key fisherman Danny Beckham, who resides in Archer, was drive-stunned repeatedly with a Taser following a vociferous dispute with police over his double-parked vehicle. Beckham was charged with resisting arrest without violence and obstruction, and also with resisting arrest with violence.
The drive-stun technique refers to the direct application of the Taser's two electrodes, delivering a painful local electric shock. This is a different use than the neuromuscular disruption caused by the use of the barbed electrode darts that can also be fired from a Taser.
Beckham says that the attending police, Officer Mike Cosseboom and Sgt. John McMullen, escalated the incident unneccessarily. The occurrence arose out of a traffic stop that involved a friend of Beckham's driving his truck. Cosseboom says that if Beckham had heeded their admonitions, the whole occurrence could have been avoided. What most observers can't figure out is, as Mayor Paul Oliver has asked, "How did a parking ticket escalate into deadly force?"
Beckham says he and Joe Plemmons went to the Big Deck Raw Bar, located at 330 Dock Street, to collect an order for fish. Beckham drove because Plemmons believed his license was invalid due to an unpaid ticket. Beckham double-parked the truck across the street and the two went into the Raw Bar.
McMullen and Cosseboom noticed Beckham's truck as they were leaving Ann's Other Place from their evening lunch. While they considered whether to ticket the truck, Raw Bar server Carla Fine volunteered to get the truck's owner to move it.
The trouble began when Plemmons came out to move Beckham's truck. Plemmons spun the tires briefly while pulling out, and Cosseboom and McMullen stopped him and asked for his license.
From inside the bar, Beckham says he heard shouts and thought officers were trying to set Plemmons up for a charge of driving with license suspended or revoked.
McMullen says that, in fact, Plemmons' license proved to be valid after it was called in. Beckham stood on the sidewalk and, he said, advised officers they should not give Plemmons anything but a warning.
McMullen and Cosseboom say that's just what they were doing, but somehow that information was not conveyed to Beckham. Cosseboom says he told Beckham to return to the bar and not interfere with the traffic stop, and Beckham did go back inside.
A short time later, Beckham returned to the scene, again, he says, to tell officers they should only give Plemmons a warning. He says that Cosseboom swore at him, telling him to get his "f---ing a--" back into the bar. Beckham says he then put up his hands, told Cosseboom he wouldn't deal with his "Yankee a--," and turned towards McMullen, saying "I'll talk to John."
At this point, police reports say Cosseboom crossed the street to arrest Beckham. Cosseboom's report says he took Beckham's wrist, whereupon Beckham "pulled back and got into an offensive fighting stance."
Beckham disagrees, saying Cosseboom appeared enraged as he rushed across the street and grabbed him. In any case, all reports agree that the two struggled and Cosseboom applied a Taser to Beckham's neck, trying to subdue him so he could be handcuffed. Both police reports state that Beckham told officers the Taser would not affect him because he had "been in Vietnam."
Beckham laughs at this detail, saying, "I've never been in any military service. Vietnam was before my time."
He showed photos of two welts on his neck that he said were still there two days after the incident, and says that as Cosseboom continued to apply the Taser, he noticed the charge was wearing down.
"When the battery ran down, I asked Boston (Cosseboom), 'Is that all you got?' Apparently it wasn't, because John (Sgt. McMullen) tossed him the other Taser and he hit me with that one too."
Beckham was finally subdued, although in the fracas, he says Cosseboom struck him in the back of the head and behind the ear with the battery butt of the Taser. Police reports indicate that Cosseboom punched Beckham in the abdomen to bring him down, but Beckham says that couldn't have happened since he was already face down.
Although the police reports say Beckham refused medical attention at the scene, he says he was never offered medical attention, since he was already in the squad car when EMTs arrived. He believes he was unconscious for up to five minutes while he was being handcuffed, and says that Plemmons, not officers, helped him to sit up.
Beckham says McMullen was seen by EMTs, since he was also stunned in the melee. The laceration behind Beckham's ear bled severely en route to the jail. In addition, the contusions to his head had effects lasting into the next several days.
"The day of my release, my ears were still ringing, but the next day, I lost 90 percent of my vision in both eyes, for over nine hours," he said. He went to his doctor, then to the hospital, where he says he was told the contusion behind his left ear was the cause of the visual disturbance. He has fully recovered his vision and hearing, but says he still suffers from headaches.
Beckham says that he and many eyewitnesses among his acquaintance are planning to file formal complaints with the police department. He says he has retained an attorney and is considering a lawsuit.
"Nobody in the world could be humiliated more than me," he said, "lying in the street like that, in front of everybody I know."
Read the other two articles on this incident: